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Written by Rick Bickling

“We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill

Mel Bartholomew began developing The Square Foot Gardening method relatively late in life, after he retired in the mid-1970’s, from his first career as an engineer. He was so frustrated with all the work and waste involved in single row gardening, he set out to find a better way. Square Foot Gardening was created by Mel to solve the waste and problems of traditional row gardening. Mel’s original book became the best-selling garden book in America. His TV show, Square Foot Gardening, aired on national PBS television for 8 years. With his book All New Square Foot Gardening, Mel made many major improvements to the original Square Foot Gardening method. He even founded The Square Foot Gardening Foundation to take this method of gardening all over the world, and help EVERYONE who would like to become a little more self-sufficient and a little healthier.

Mel’s message was simple: give back to others by helping them grow more of their own food, in less space, with less waste, while cutting costs, using less water, fewer seeds, and with less work. Gardening should be fun, simple, and easy to understand.

Besides these practical aspects, research has shown that spending time out in your garden provides numerous physical, mental, and emotional benefits. As we all try to cope during these trying COVID-19 times, millions of new gardeners have joined our ranks. 

The physical benefits of gardening are many. It provides a terrific low-impact, full-body workout that helps you maintain a healthy weight, increase flexibility, and aid sleep. After just half an hour in the sun, your body can produce between 8,000 and 50,000 IU of vitamin D. A recent study by The Mayo Clinic observed high rates of vitamin D deficiency in people with COVID-19.

Gardening can improve the brain’s cognitive function, and a 2014 study found that horticultural therapy may be an effective treatment for mental and behavioral disorders such as dementia, schizophrenia, depression, as well as terminal-care for cancer. In another study, researchers also found that gardening increased self-esteem. Participants discussed feeling calm, happy, and less anxious.

Gardening can help you recover from a stressful event. In a 2010 study, researchers exposed a test group to a stressful activity. Afterwards, half the group spent time quietly reading while the other half spent time gardening. Researchers then measured the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in participants’ bodies and discovered that the gardening group recovered from the stress quicker than the reading group. Positive mood was fully restored after gardening, but further deteriorated during reading. No offense to the English teachers in the room.

With mask mandates, lock downs, social distancing, working from home, and remote learning in schools, many are experiencing a deep lack of connection with others. Make gardening together a family priority.

Think of how you can safely share your Square Foot Garden and the experiences and rewards it provides with others who aren’t fortunate enough to have their own garden. Invite an elderly friend or neighbor over to tour your garden. Take some homemade zucchini bread or tomato sauce to someone you know who has been isolated during these trying times. Volunteer at and donate some of your extra harvest to the local food pantry. Help that young family across the street start their own Square Foot Garden. In so doing, you may well find that the simple act of helping someone else, will go a long way towards helping yourself.


Rick Bickling

Rick is a Texas Master Gardener and Honorary Square Foot Gardening Certified Instructor. Gardening in Texas clay soil (zone 8b) has its challenges, and Rick found solutions. After Rick’s sons grew up he found a way to reuse a concrete basketball court by putting Square Foot Gardens right on the concrete and utilizing Mel’s Mix instead of amending his native soil. In addition to being an avid Square Foot Gardener, an Honorary SFG Certified Instructor and a Texas Master Gardener, Rick finds time to work closely with the Square Foot Gardening Foundation and it’s Directors, Laura & Steve Bartholomew, creating video tutorials called SFG “Essentials” exclusively for the SFG Foundation. You can find Rick’s YouTube video series here:

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